Services I use

Back in October 2009, I created a post called “Stuff I Install” which gave a snapshot of the stuff I use to setup a new computer. Since then, each day it seems like there are fewer and fewer desktop apps I rely on, while my dependence on web services, web apps, and web data have grown tremendously. This shift has been partly caused by/facilitated by my use of/need for heterogeneous computing (iPhone, Windows Desktop). In fact, most of my new choices for services are based on the requirement that they work with my iPhone. So, I thought I’d take a moment to review this and catalog for myself my current “setup.” I also do this as a bit of a digital “time capsule” – some of these choices seem so obvious to me right now, but might seem silly in another 4 years…will be interesting to see if I’m married to Office 365 and a Windows Phone by then.

GMail + Google Calendar – Goes without saying, but these are indispensable tools. Even from iOS, I use the dedicated GMail app to do deep, contextual search of all of my digital life since November 19th, 2004 (what I did before that is hopefully still archived in an Outlook .pst file on an old server somewhere, but god knows where that is). Priority Inbox has significantly improved my ability to filter email and keep track of important starred to-do items.

Basecamp – Speaking of todos, this is my new favorite collaboration tool for keeping track of the myriad of activities at work. The biggest benefit is that it pulls important data and decisions out of email inboxes, which inevitably become confusing or end up dropping an important stakeholder from the thread. Our team at the day job has done a great job of integrating this into most all our work activities. Besides allowing basic organization and threaded discussion on any topic (we use a Working/Ready/Backlog todo list structure for each project), Basecamp also recently introduced Client Projects which add a simple way to bring in non-Basecamp users and unify the strategy of keeping things solely in email. All that said, it’s email integration (ability to email/forward/reply to Basecamp projects from email) is what sets it apart, IMO. The one downside – it’s not free (try Trello for a neat free task manager). But in my opinion, it’s priced just right and totally worth what you get.

Dropbox – Important data/documents/presentations do not belong 1) siloed on a single PC, or 2) stuck in email attachments. And in my opinion, they also shouldn’t be archived on a centralized server. You won’t always have access to that server and manually handling synchronization is a nightmare, especially when collaborating with others. Dropbox is great because any of my computers that I sit down to have all of my important files up to date. Selective sync keeps my laptop SSD from getting too full, and Packrat (an extra fee) makes sure if something accidentally gets deleted/modified, we can easily retrieve any of the older copies. The real synergy here is with Basecamp – if your team can agree on a common shared location for the files (e.g. “C:\Dropbox”), then you can add direct links in Basecamp posts to folders and documents on Dropbox.

Feedly – My savior! Google killed Reader and Feedly has taken it’s place. I spend too much time on Feedly, but it’s awesome for aggregating all of the interesting internet things, as well as a good tool for listening to replys on forums, getting notified of source code check-ins, etc.

Netflix Streaming – Feels a little frivolous to put this in, but non-traditional sources of long-form video have finally crept into daily life. Beyond the DVR, my wife and I have been pretty slow to adopt new living room technology. But, Star Trek TOS (because Roku). That happened. Plus, we finally splurged on a Logitech Harmony which makes changing between Roku/TV/DVD activities a cinch with a single remote, even with a fairly complex entertainment system setup.

Bitbucket, GitHub, CodePlex, Team Foundation Service for managing all of the codes public and private. I won’t gets into a much larger collection of sites that I use daily, except to mention how profoundly StackOverflow.com has fundamentally changed what’s possible for a developer to do/learn/grok in such a short time.

I have now outsourced almost all of my IT to online services such as GoDaddy hosting, WordPress.com blog hosting, Drobo Sync (for secure offsite replication of TB-scale backups), and CrashPlan  (for backup of GB-scale personal data).

That all said, I still use Windows 8 as my main PC OS. Here’s the stuff I (still) install onto my three desktops and two laptops:

Ninite gets me started with all the free basics: Chrome, Security Essentials, Skype, Z-Zip, QuickTime, Java, TeamViewer, ImgBurn, Paint.NET, Dropbox, Reader, CutePDF

Then, 1 PasswordVirtual CloneDrive, Sublime Text, MS OfficeCyberDuck, WinDirStat, and some dev tools like  Visual StudioTortoiseHgVisualHgGit ExtensionsGit for VS, and XML Notepad 2007. I also recently started using Fuze for free, 3-way video chats (see also Google Hangouts). I find AlternativeTo.net a useful tool for making sure I’m making good choices (for me, at least). And Scott Hansleman. Which is why I’m going to try Choclatey to see if I can’t get more of this paragraph’s installs automated (tried it with MDT a while ago, but couldn’t get the hang of it).

I’m sure I’m forgetting things, but that’s the gist of it for me – feel free to post your opinions in the comments!

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